Radical Acceptance – What it is, and what it is not.

I’ve mentioned on my socials recently that I’ve become more accepting of certain aspects of my life. First and foremost I’ve accepted the fact that I am disabled. It’s taken me seven years to fully get on board with the idea that this is something I must accept. In fact, my acceptance came very recently whilst attending a course of Dialectal Behavioural Therapy. One of the sessions was based solely on radical acceptance and what it means.

So, tell us, what is it?

In a nutshell: Radical Acceptance is a skill in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that helps people learn how to accept very painful events, challenges, people, or aspects of their life. It’s one of the skills found in the Distress Tolerance module of DBT.

Radical acceptance for me personally has been about the above, accepting my illnesses and the fact they are life limiting, but that there are still moments, days, weeks, that are good. Sometimes even great. Radical acceptance has also played a role in how I relate to my pregnancies, my early motherhood experiences and things in my past that I cannot change. Major regrets and mistakes that I have made that have played an overwhelming role throughout my life.

So are you saying we should accept people who treat us badly, or forgive ourselves or others for things we’ve previously felt were unforgivable?

No. Foremost, radical acceptance doesn’t mean forgiveness. You can regret something you have done, dislike the part of you that did it and still accept that it happened. Similarly with actions of others. For example if you’ve been in an abusive relationship and your partner has hurt you badly, radical acceptance isn’t about forgiving the person who hurt you, or continuing to accept abuse. It is about accepting a situation, to help you gain the most peace and enjoyment from your life. If hatred for that abusive partner is eating you up, or if because of the trauma you suffered, you’re too scared to go out, practising radical acceptance can help you move forward to live a life more inline with your personal values. You do not have to forgive someone’s mistakes, you just have to stop letting them take up space in your head. I know it’s not easy. Another example for me: I have many regrets but one in particular has been eating away at me for over a decade. Everyday I was continuing to punish myself by telling myself I was not a good person. My ruminating became so bad it was affecting my parenting, I was having daily panic attacks and feeling as if my family would be better off without me. When learning about radical acceptance the psychologist advised me that I didn’t need to forgive myself, I could still hate what I’d done and understand that I could not change it. I could accept that it happened and try and build a life for myself, or I could continue to ruin my life by going over and over the same thing. In doing the latter I was hurting my family because they were worried for me, and that only served to make me feel more guilty and unloveable. RA is complex at first, but once you come to learn more about the concept, practice radical acceptance of the little things, like spilling cereal all over a freshly washed floor, the easier it becomes to do it with the big things. Like me with my regrets and my health.

Another one that I’ve been practicing (if you’ve been following my blog for sometime you may have come across me talking about this before) is the acceptance that sometimes people won’t like me and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. I don’t like everyone, in fact I’m quite selective in the people I call friends. But when it comes to others not liking me, I have been known to take it really personally. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s an abandonment thing, or a need for external validation. Anyway, the point is radical acceptance has helped me manage the impact of this and get outside of my own head.

If it were that easy we’d all do it

I know. And it isn’t easy. Therapy never is though. I think the first thing to remember with RA is that it’s about not fighting with your reality. Not actively trying to overcome something. Instead allowing the feelings you have about it to be there, but not take over. One of the psychologists on the course I attended, gave a good example of how to practise RA in the everyday. She used the analogy of being late. You know you’re late, you could stress and rush to get to your destination faster but you’re still going to be late. And if you stress and rush you’re likely going to feel worse. So accept that you’re late and are still going to arrive late, but this way, hopefully in a much calmer state.

You may never fully accept trauma you’ve experienced, and that’s ok.

The idea of practising radical acceptance isn’t to negate every bad feeling you’ve ever experienced, but to better manage those feelings when they are taking over your life.

Try it with the small stuff, and if it feels too traumatic to build up to the big stuff on your own, consider a course in dialectal behaviour therapy. My personal experience of DBT is that it’s worth it’s weight in gold when learning to manage painful and intense emotions. Being a big ol’ bag of emotions almost permanently, it’s been a freeing and life changing experience for me.

For more information on DBT click here

Confessions Of A Chronically Ill Mum #2

This week in our house everyone seems to be fully over the ‘Rona, except me, of course not me. My symptoms are lingering and have worsened whilst I’ve been in the luteal phase of my cycle. This isn’t unusual, I often get flare ups in all symptoms around this time of the month, and particularly symptoms stemming from viruses that weaken your immune system. I’ve had recurring shingles for a few years now and every single month without fail, despite being on antivirals indefinitely, I get a flare up in nerve pain at the outbreak site.

Having said that, this past week I’ve been busy! So busy, that I’ve had to be organised. I notice this organisation has had a positive impact on my mood despite being in luteal. It’s classic distraction I guess. Also my husband and I have a weekend away booked as it was our wedding anniversary this week and just knowing that I have three nights of child free sleep to look forward to, is undeniably liberating.

A few more things happened and one of them was, I saw a new GP. A big deal for me. I’ve had the same GP since before my Fibro diagnosis six years ago, and she’s been amazing. The idea of seeing a new one whilst she is on maternity leave has filled me with dread for months. But today I did it. It was ok. I went in with a list and ticked off all of this in 10 minutes….

  • ECG Booked
  • Fasting bloods booked
  • Referral to rapid cardiac clinic
  • Breast clinic follow up appointment booked
  • Chased up Lipid clinic referral
  • Discussed further gynae/endocrinology input re PMDD
  • Post covid obs done
  • Face to face appointment for Kaiser booked for post covid obs.

Why am I telling you all of this in a blog post?

Well there is a reason, and it’s this weeks confession. I have always been a person that actively advocates for myself and my health. After all if I don’t, who else is going to do it for me? I research everything, I connect dots and I track my symptoms. But for months now, I have been slacking. It took me two months to drum up the courage to get a referral to the breast clinic, even though I had a very visible lump in my left breast. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be bothered to argue the toss with the drs receptionist about why I needed a face to face appointment, and every time I spoke to a healthcare professional that wasn’t part of my mental health team, I cried. 

When you have chronic and mental illness you get used to being dismissed by doctors.

Can’t breathe, crushing chest pain? Probably just a Fibro flare up, I’m sure that’s a symptom! Or actually maybe it’s anxiety, have you been stressed lately?

Skull smashed open and brain hanging out? Sounds like a panic attack.

Gone blind? Sounds like a migraine.

And so on. I know I’m being glib, and I’m sorry if this exaggeration offends anyone, but seriously, sometimes visiting the doctor is like pulling fucking teeth. The issue with that is, the doctor’s the only person who can help you get the treatment you need, for the answers you had to figure out yourself.

And when you have kids it’s not even a case of whether or not you can cope with your symptoms. You don’t get a choice. I know it’s easy for me to say, and many people reading this may well think, well if it was that bad you wouldn’t be able to just cope. The truth is though, parents with their own health issues do just cope. Even the ones diagnosed with life threatening cancers still do the school run between scans and treatments. I personally have friends who have had to do this so I know that it’s true for some.

Big thing number 2.

Group therapy. I started it today. I want to write a whole blog post on the pros and cons once I’ve had a few more sessions so for now I’ll keep it brief. The session was two hours long. Two hours spent with a group in person might have felt quite nice, a chance to learn some new mindfulness skills and have a chat with others in a similar boat to myself, but two hours online was painstakingly long. Kaiser napped for just 15 minutes of it and trying to listen to other women speak over the top of crying baby heads felt strained. There were a few rules too, like we had to keep our camera on at all times so I couldn’t roll my eyes or go for a wee without having to let everyone know my reasons. I want to benefit from the group and I’m sure in time I’ll get used to it and maybe even bring some of my own value to it, but today I found it just made a stressful day with a baby, more stressful. The whole idea of this group is to be able to learn to regulate my emotions better, to deal with stress in a more productive way, and to feel more in control. So I’m going to stick it out, even if the first session did feel like it was an intrusion on my time. Therapy, I’ve learned is not supposed to be comfortable and it requires commitment so I feel I owe to myself to see this through.

Full time job

It has felt lately as though looking after my health and trying to juggle appointments and treatment is a full time job. Having a baby is also a full time job, both without annual leave or pay. I’m due back to work soon and no idea what I’m going to do about childcare or how to manage two full time jobs on top of a part time paid job. I want to be well in order to participate in my children’s lives, but I also need to earn money to be able to give them a decent life. The system is still fucked. It still penalises mothers who work or have partners. Childcare is still extortion, and I know I’m not alone in this plight. I just wish it was one of the ones I didn’t have to think about right now, but I know I do, as with the cost of living rising and wages becoming stagnant, it’s a very real threat to our livelihood and I guess lifestyle too.

Finally

Finally I’ve become more aware this week just how much I’ve let myself go, and I’ve set myself tiny goals of putting my makeup on more often and making sure I’m grooming myself! So far it’s going ok, but they do say it takes at least 3 weeks to form a habit so I’ll catch you up then.

All I want for Christmas, is you.

What a year. I can’t believe that just six months ago I felt as though my world had imploded without any real warning. I woke up one day and didn’t feel like me anymore. I was afraid for my sanity, for my mobility, for my family and our future.
I couldn’t see past six hours without having a panic attack let alone six months.
I led in my bed, day in day out for 7 months, unable to walk.
As my son’s due date approached my mental health declined.
I felt consumed by all consuming, claustrophobic, fear. Wracked with perinatal anxiety.
I was broken.
I guess that’s why they call it a breakdown.
But here we are now, a family of four, surviving interminable routine and carnage, poor health and therapy, work and parenthood simultaneously.
Loving each other through it all.
It’s not been easy, it’s been hard getting here, ridiculously fucking hard in fact, but it has paid dividends to keep going.

I’ve got everything I need this Christmas. Genuinely. I feel so content with my family. When I say this I mean content as in they are enough, not content as in getting loads of sleep or life being perfect, unfortunately! Ha! I know how blessed I am, I’ve always known it, but I really feel it this year. After everything we’ve been through I have a desire to keep them close and let them know how much I love them. The only thing I want for the big day is more of that contentment (as well as good health & freedom for all, world peace too, but I’ll refrain from getting too ambitious.)

I am not the same old me I was last Christmas. Granted, I’m still a stressy, messy, bitch with a foul mouth who is always exhausted…. but I am also different. I’m softer round the edges. More vulnerable I guess, if that’s possible, but stronger too. I believe that what doesn’t kill us can leave us with a lot of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and I by no means, have ditched all mine. I haven’t turned into a preacher or someone who promotes their new lifestyle as some big epiphany, desperate for people to follow. But I am interested in change, in finding fun and contentment in new places. That makes me further away from those unhealthy coping mechanisms than I once was and I’m proud of that. I suppose what I’m trying to say is, I’m more open to learning better ways to survive and enjoy the mundane in the everyday.

I’m less inclined to sweat the small stuff whilst simultaneously being more interested in the big stuff.
My tolerance for a lot of things is greater, but less for small talk. I’ve always struggled with chatting aimlessly about the weather and the like, I’m too nosy, too inquisitive, I want to meet people and know them, not skirt around edges with hollow pleasantries. Similarly I’d rather be quizzed on my life than have it glossed over, skipped or ignored. I’m over hanging on to dead end relationships and chasing things that don’t bring me joy. Whether that be friendships that are more effort than fulfilment, or doing things I don’t enjoy anymore, for example forcing myself to be somewhere I don’t want to be. This year I have no desire for big boozy nights feigning Christmas cheer. I mean obviously the pandemic has some impact on those kinda outings, but I honestly think even without the plague, I’d still just want to be snuggled up close with my nearest and dearest.

Transitioning from one child to two has been a lot. I’m already anxious about how I’m going to cope with a baby that hates sleep whilst I’m trying to eat my turkey dinner. However, I’m ok with those kind of anxieties, they’re normal, they make me feel normal, whatever ‘normal’ is.
The biggest change of all for us this year is of course the fact we have an extra person round the tree to love. And love him we do. ❤️🎄

Subtle break-throughs

If you suffer from anxiety, or the feeling of impending doom and inexplicable terror that comes with panic attacks, the debilitating calamity that is intrusive thoughts, the unrelenting personality shift before your menstrual cycle because of PMDD? I hear you. I see you. I am you.

If you suffer from one or all of the mental illnesses mentioned above, you will know that logic is about as far away from fear as is possible. You may as well fly a rocket to Mars and you’d be no closer to logical thoughts during a panic attack. I’ve been having therapy for five months. The single longest stint I’ve ever managed to stick at anything relating to my mental health that doesn’t come in a blister pack. Full disclosure I take the pills too, I need them, but therapy is a different level of healing. It’s eye opening, confronting and real hard graft.

During these five months I have had breakdowns, many breakdowns. I have also experienced breakthroughs. These tend to be subtler, less outwardly monumental, but I can tell you from experience they are transcendent and quite awe-inspiring when you become aware of them.

I’m going to give you an example of one of my recent breakthroughs.

I am currently waiting for several hospital appointments, one of them may end up being quite life defining so it’s pretty important. With anything of importance for me, almost always comes anxiety. Throw in a self diagnosed terminal illness via Dr Google and we’re talking full blown life limiting panic attacks. But, not this time. I got my appointment letter a few days after the referral was made, though supposed to be seen within two weeks the NHS backlog means the clinic are running two weeks behind. Where as this kind of delay would usually lead to more panic, endless overthinking and probable sleepless nights, something has shifted in me and I feel different.

My logical brain has always known that there is little point in worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, but regardless of my knowledge I have never been able to stop myself from said worry.

Worrying about tomorrow, steals today’s joy.

After going through what I have in the last five months, being scared of my own brain and constantly coming up against new challenges in trying to change the way I think, I decided right at the beginning of my recovery that I no longer wanted to live in fear. Of course simply not wanting something isn’t usually enough to stop it from happening. But with subtle changes and a keen desire to get better, engaging and working hard during therapy sessions and opening up fully to my mental health team, I have noticed a shift. I still feel anxiety around the appointment of course, but anxiety itself is a normal healthy human response. It only becomes problematic when it interferes with our everyday lives. And in this instance, relating to this appointment….I’m so happy to say it’s not doing that.

I don’t want to waste time worrying about an outcome that I cannot predict or influence. I don’t want to fear the worst only to find out when the time comes that it’s not the worst, then look back regretfully that I had wasted precious moments living in fear.

What if it isn’t a tiger in the long grass? What if it’s just a fluffy little kitten?

I won’t bullshit you, I know I’m not always going to be able to rationalise in this way. So many factors contribute to my own personal experience with anxiety and panic, that there will inevitably be times when I falter, and times when I fall. But what I’m doing right now, today, is I’m saying no to worrying about things that aren’t within my control. Isn’t anxiety itself a deep rooted need to control our fears and possible catastrophes?

How did I get here?

  • I took on board the offerings of tips my therapist suggested, such as grounding and breathing techniques and practised them even when I didn’t believe in them.
  • I reminded myself that if there’s a possibility that my world might fall apart, there’s also a possibility, it won’t.
  • I take prescribed medication religiously and stick with it for the recommended amount of time.
  • I’m trying, I say trying because I don’t always succeed, to implement healthier lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise and eating healthier.
  • I write my feelings. It’s a personal favourite in helping me to process them.
  • I try to stay more in the present moment.
  • I have an amazing mental health team that I talk to regularly, even when I don’t think I have anything to say.

I know these things aren’t easy to do, I know this because it’s taken me twenty years to even begin to start really healing. But along with the above list, I also believe that celebrating small wins is a great way to remind ourselves that even when we are not where we want to be, we are further forward than we once were.

Me this week on a particularly bad day. Reminding myself it’s just a bad day not a bad life.
Also me this week on a better day

Therapy is not just for picking up broken pieces

A couple of weeks ago I had some news that really turned my world upside down a bit. I haven’t talked about it much because there is so much other stuff going on, but it’s been a struggle managing my emotions. I felt myself spiralling a bit, like I do every so often, usually when I’m due on. I decided to try and get ahead of this, so I called my GP who offered to refer me for talking therapies. I’ve had talk therapy before, many times actually, sometimes it’s helped other times not so much, but I’m never opposed to it, because I believe when you’re feeling mentally unwell you need to be open to trying things that might help. So I gratefully agreed to have a telephone appointment.

The lady I spoke to ran through a standard mental health questionnaire, then at the end she said I score mildly for depression and anxiety. I told her yes, it is mild at the moment, but I’m trying to intercept it before it gets moderate-severe. Her response was that I don’t meet the criteria at this stage for ongoing therapy. I’ve had this conversation before. I’ve written posts about it before too. I feel like this is the reason we are in the crisis we are in with mental health in this country, because we are waiting for people to be in their own full blown mental health crisis before offering them any support. I know that whilst the NHS is under so much pressure their resources might need to be elsewhere, but this isn’t a new thing; even before covid people were being turned away for not being depressed enough. Because I don’t want to die I’m not in crisis, because I’m not self harming or hurting anyone else I’m not in crisis. The sad thing is… I have wanted to die. I have self harmed and I have hurt people I love in the process of all of that. This time, this time I wanted to ask for help before I spiralled, before I lost control and needed to pick up the broken pieces of my life for the hundredth time.

Instead I got given some reading material and a thank you for my time.

This is not enough. Luckily for me. I am well aware of my triggers, I’m aware of my privilege and I have a great support network in my family. There is always the option to go private, but with my physical health being as rubbish as it is I usually need to top up care with massage or B12 injections, therapy is an added expense and when you’re down to the last penny you usually have to sacrifice one or the other. The trouble is with therapy is, it’s not just a one off cost. You have to pay this every week or every month sometimes forever and my fear is I’m one of those people that will need therapy forever. The thing with physical health is it affects our mental health too and so if I sacrifice the things that make me feel physically better, I’ll also be putting myself at a higher risk of feeling mentally worse. The struggle is real.

Life is hard right now for everyone and there will be people out there in worse situations than myself, probably not getting the help they need either. Learning to live through these times has been a colossal trek and we are all still hiking up cliffs hanging on for dear life. But mental health is not a new problem, it’s not a craze or a trend, it’s a continuous battle in the modern world, a battle that if not fought early and hard, can be and too often is, deadly. It’s a life threatening problem that we as a society have still not been able to tackle.

It’s great to post about mental health and raise awareness, open up and find solace in each other online but still this isn’t enough. Saying it’s ok to not be okay is one thing, telling people to reach out is another, neither are cures for a breakdown or social anxiety and sometimes they’re not even easy to do. I may know I’ll feel better if I reach out but doing it is a different matter all together.

So what can you do if you don’t meet the criteria for intervention but are still struggling? You can prioritise self care. You can access online support. You can reach out to family members or friends if you feel able. You can make time to read, write, do a course that makes you feel better about yourself. You can practice breathing and you can call any of the below numbers for professional support. If financially able you can look into finding private therapists that are able to support you long term. What you mustn’t do, is feel like the lack of free support available means you’re not worthy. You are. Whatever your next move is, please take this reminder that your struggles are valid. Your life still matters and you are going to make it.